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Visiting Sterpenich, Belgium: with good, agricultural land cut off from the Gutland

Updated on April 8, 2014
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
The Belgian village of Sterpenich seen from Hett to the west
The Belgian village of Sterpenich seen from Hett to the west | Source
Western view of Sterpenich, Belgium, and Autelbas stream
Western view of Sterpenich, Belgium, and Autelbas stream | Source
Belgian village of Sterpenich viewed from the west
Belgian village of Sterpenich viewed from the west | Source
Belgian village of Sterpenich viewed from the south-west
Belgian village of Sterpenich viewed from the south-west | Source
Marie-Victor, baron de Tornaco (1805 - 1875), Prime Minister of Luxembourg from 1860 to 1867
Marie-Victor, baron de Tornaco (1805 - 1875), Prime Minister of Luxembourg from 1860 to 1867 | Source

Good, better, best?

The village of Sterpenich (Létzebuergesch: Sterpenech), Belgium is surrounded by good, rolling agricultural land. Because it is such good land useful in agriculture, for this reason, the name of the nearby gepgraphical region, the Gutland (French: le Bon Pays), was coined.

Except that Sterpenich is not formally part of the Gutland. This latter region is located in the south of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Whereas Sterpenich is in Luxembourg — yes — but not the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. This because Belgium has a province named Luxembourg — indeed, its area is larger than that of the independent Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. This state of affairs, whereby Sterpenich and other localities are very obviously detatched from the region which they form a part geographically, if not politically, dates from 1839 (1). (Records from the period show that considerable economic disruption resulted from agricultural products being unable to cross the newly established border.)

Thus, the geographical and even cultural term used to describe the area in which Sterpenich, with its rolling, agricultural land, is situated is le Pays d'Arlon (Létzebuergesch: Arelerland), where the traditional language locally is Létzebuergesch, although French is the language of administration. Sometimes this area is also known as Belgian Lorraine (French: Lorraine belge; Létzebuergesch: Belsche Loutrengen). Sterpenich is in the municipality of Arlon (Létzebuergesch: Arel), in the Luxembourg province of the Wallon region (French: Région wallonne; Létzebuergesch: D'Wallounesch Regioun).

From Sterpenich, as the first main photo (right. above) shows if observed closely, the buildings of Luxembourg City, the Grand Duchy's capital, can even be seen.

Does all this mean that Sterpenich and neighbouring localities, 'ought' to belong to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg rather than Belgium?

Well, this is not necessarily self-evident if you ask many Belgians or Luxembourg nationals. Remember: Belgium itself had been in existence as an independent country for only 9 years when what is now the Grand Duchy was separated from the remainder of the similarly named Belgian province in 1839. And what with Dutch-speaking Flemings, French- and (maybe Walloon-) speaking Walloons, Bruxellois of various levels of mono- or bilingualism, and German-speaking Ostkantone residents, Belgians are linguistically rather diverse in any case.

So matters of linguistic affinity or geographical proximity do not in themselves make for compelling reasons for irredentist changes.

Indeed, most Belgians and most Luxembourg nationals are convinced that to change their countries' borders at this stage of their respective histories would not serve a constructive, larger purpose. This, at any rate, is the line taken strictly by both the Belgian and Luxembourg governments (2).

So you can say that Sterpenich is surrounded by good, agricultural land. And you can say that Luxembourg's good, agricultural land, a stone's throw from Sterpenich over the Autelbas stream (3), gives rise to the term the 'Gutland'.

But you should not say that Sterpenich's good, agricultural land is, or ought to be, part of the Gutland. (Simple?)

November 12, 2013


(1) This was according to the provisions of the Treaty of London, of 1839.

(2) A few years ago, possibly provoked by a mischievous parliamentary question by a populist opposition deputy, Luxembourg's Culture Minister gave an unwittingly ambiguous answer which seemed to indicate sympathy for an irredentist separatist partly active in the Belgian Arelerland rather than more generally for the cultural promotion of Létzebuergesch language and literature. This impression was soon 'explained' and corrected by the Prime Minister of Luxembourg!

(3) The village of Kleinbettingen in the Grand Duchy lies beyond the Autelbas stream.

Map location of Arlon, in the Belgian province of Luxembourg
Map location of Arlon, in the Belgian province of Luxembourg | Source

Also worth seeing

Sterpenich, within Arlon municipality, has a castle historically associated with the de Tornaco family; one of whom, Marie-Victor de Tornaco, was Prime Minister of the neighbouring Grand Duchy of Luxembourg during the 19th century, known as a prime mover of the neutralism which prove to serve the country ill both in 1914 and 1940. (Interestingly, Baron de Tornaco was born over 30 years before the Arelerland was partitioned from what became the independent Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the government of which he was to lead.) Arlon itself has noted ecclesiastical architecture including St. Donat's and St Martin's churches; a portion of the town wall, dating from Roman times, has survived.

Luxembourg City , Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (distance: 26 kilometres); its many visitor attractions including the Cathedral, the Valley of the Pétrusse; the Grand Ducal Palace; place Guillaume; the Bock fortress, and many others.


How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National; distance: 196 kilometres), from where car rental is available. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. The Belgian railroad company SNCB / NMBS maintains a service between Brussels and Arlon . Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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